Police Management Blamed by Therapist in Rape-Suicide

Times Staff Writer

A psychologist who treated James Earl McDonald--the former Santa Ana police sergeant who raped a teen-age girl before killing himself last weekend--Tuesday accused the department of personnel practices that are "archaic."

"It's a bizarre, feudal system--it's management out of the dark ages," said Barry C. Spatz, a marriage and family therapist. "They (Santa Ana police management) really can be vicious."

By his own estimate, Spatz has counseled 500 to 1,000 police officers from various cities. In many of those cases, his evaluations became part of workers' compensation cases filed against those cities, including Santa Ana. Spatz also writes a regular column in the Santa Ana police officers association's newspaper titled "Of Cops and Shrinks."

Neither Santa Ana Police Chief Clyde Cronkhite, who was not with the department during McDonald's tenure, nor any other high-ranking officer would comment on Spatz's accusations.

McDonald, then a 17-year department veteran, contacted Spatz "in emotional crisis" in May, 1986, having been demoted to patrol officer after being accused of failing to submit a shooting-incident report and then lying about that failure.

McDonald, 39, maintained that he had submitted the report--the third draft, after earlier versions were returned for corrections--but that someone had taken it from a desktop mail tray. His supervisors said he was lying.

He was dismissed from his job a few months later and went into a serious depression before his third wife, Judy McDonald, left their mobile home in Riverside County in September.

On Saturday, McDonald abducted a 14-year-old girl he knew through his work as a volunteer scuba instructor with the Explorer Sea Scouts program in Newport Beach. Once inside his truck at a McDonald's restaurant in Newport Beach, he handcuffed the girl, drove to his house near Lake Elsinore and raped her, according to police.

Then, with the girl handcuffed in the camper shell of his truck, McDonald drove to a mountain road near Running Springs, parked and fired a single shot into his mouth.

The events that led from his demotion in April to his dismissal in July--and, possibly, to the tragic Saturday afternoon on which he permanently scarred a teen-age girl's life and ended his own--are not entirely clear. Police officials have refused to comment beyond a brief statement explaining that McDonald was "deemed to have resigned" after he failed to report for work without an excuse.

Court and workers' compensation hearing records, however, show that top Santa Ana police officials viewed claims of job-related stress with suspicion--especially if the diagnosis came from Spatz--and were convinced that McDonald could no longer be a productive member of the department.

"It is amazing how much correlation there seems to be between stress claims and pending or completed disciplinary actions," Deputy Police Chief Eugene B. Hansen wrote on July 22, 1986, to Spatz.

"There used to be a time when men accepted the responsibility for their actions. Some still do, but others tend to try and elude their responsibilities by contrived device. It is indeed unfortunate if one's misconduct creates self-stress, but that does not necessarily have attendant employer liability."

Hansen added, however, that "one must be careful not to jump to the conclusion that there is a stress mill in operation."

Hansen wrote the letter in response to a July 14 letter from Spatz complaining about the department's handling of McDonald's dismissal. Earlier that day, two internal affairs investigators had waited until McDonald arrived at Spatz's Santa Ana office for an appointment, then handed him a letter in the waiting room saying that he was deemed to have resigned because of his unexcused absence since July 4.

Shaking and Weeping

McDonald was shaking and weeping in the waiting room when one of the investigators interrupted Spatz's counseling session with another couple and told him that McDonald needed assistance, according to Spatz's letter.

Spatz had written a note on June 3 to the Police Department saying that McDonald was temporarily disabled because of "major depression."

The note had excused Spatz for 30 days. He was at a Personnel Board hearing July 9 and 10 to appeal his demotion (he lost), and no police official mentioned that the note had expired or asked him when he was coming back to work, according to McDonald's attorney, Seth Kelsey.

"We thought he was still on disability leave," Kelsey said.

A psychiatric evaluation prepared by Spatz's colleague, Dr. Jay Cohen, and forwarded through Kelsey's office to the city's workers' compensation insurance adjuster in late June stated that McDonald's disability would probably last for another three to six months.

The insurance adjuster, Fred S. James & Co., "should have sent a copy to the city," Kelsey said.

McDonald spoke on the telephone with Lt. Jack Nelson the morning of July 14, and Nelson told him that his note had expired, according to Kelsey. McDonald "said he didn't know that but that he'd check on it and get another one," Kelsey said.

A few hours later, though, he was effectively fired in the waiting room of his therapist's office.

'Department's Dirty Work'

"Had you, or anyone at the city, bothered to check with us, we would have been quite willing to write an additional disability note," Spatz wrote to the Police Department following the incident. "The actions taken today are tragic. . . . My office is for my patients, not for your department's dirty work."

Hansen, in his reply, wrote: "Whoa! You are one tough guy! All we can do is sit in the aura of your pedantic brilliance, with the proper measure of trepidation and awe. However, one must wonder if your letter was intended as an assistance to your client or to pander to a larger audience of potential stress claims. Probably we will never know, but I am summarily rejecting your complaint."

The deputy chief said in the letter that the two officers who met McDonald at Spatz's office showed "considerable humanistic behavior in seeking your assistance for your client."

"In respect to your failure to promptly supply us with a current excuse from his work duties, the issue is moot, since Mr. McDonald is presently not a city employee."

Hansen also wrote in the letter that the department would "keep the big leaguers and throw back the little leaguers. You may have those, and we will have a stronger police agency. Both of us will have reached our proper audiences."

McDonald requested reinstatement to his job July 15.

The appeal was rejected in a one-sentence Aug. 5 letter from Hansen. In a memo to City Manager David N. Ream, Hansen wrote that McDonald should not be rehired because "he will not be a constructive or productive employee. . . . Since he had no evident psychological problems before his disciplinary problem, it appears that this entire medical situation is of his own making. He should not be allowed to gain by his own irresponsibility by having us reinstatement (sic) him."

Problem With Deadlines

McDonald had received average to above average evaluations as both a patrol officer and sergeant, but he had had problems on more than one occasion submitting reports on time, according to Lt. James Davis, McDonald's superior, who testified at the workers' compensation hearing.

Davis testified that officers were not usually fired or demoted for failing to submit reports.

"But truthfulness is the key issue," Workers' Compensation Judge David L. Zimmerman wrote in the case file, summarizing Davis' testimony.

One psychiatrist who examined McDonald as part of the workers' compensation case wrote that he could not tell whether the former sergeant was telling the truth--either about the missing report or about the extent and cause of his depression.

"It is impossible for me and probably the others to know exactly what the situation is," wrote Richard J. Hunter last August. The psychiatrist noted that it was "significant" that McDonald could to work as a scuba instructor--a job that required confidence and ego strength, qualities that he did not show while being examined.

A decision in the case is still pending. In his final summary notes, Zimmerman wrote that McDonald testified during the hearing "in a flat, expressionless voice. When (he) was not on the witness stand, he sat in the back of the room with a blank, disconnected look on his face, as if staring off into space, but seeing nothing."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Friday March 4, 1988 Orange County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction In a Feb. 24 story, Barry C. Spatz, who counseled former Santa Ana Police Sgt. James Earl McDonald, was identified incorrectly as a psychologist. He is a licensed marriage, family and child counselor.
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